Mining Resistance in Guatemala
Clodoveo Rodriguez (better known as Don Clodo in his native San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa) has lived his 78 years in the arid community. Since late 2011, his home has been fenced-in by the neighboring Escobal silver mine, a joint venture by Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp. Despite pressure from the Canadian mining companies to sell, Don Clodo refuses to leave his land.
Primarily a silver mine, Escobal’s majority shares are owned by Tahoe Resources. The exploration license was given to Goldcorp in 2007 at a time when Kevin McArthur still ran Goldcorp as President and CEO. McArthur retired from Goldcorp towards the end of 2008, but founded Tahoe Resources in 2010. That same year, Tahoe paid Goldcorp $505 million for 60 percent of the shares to the Escobal project, leaving Goldcorp as the minority owner with 40 percent of the shares.
The relationship between Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp can only be described as an intimate one. Besides the obvious link involving McArthur, Tahoe’s board of directors include Dan Rovig and Kenneth F. Williamson, individuals who also sit on Goldcorp’s board.
Escobal, Tahoe’s only project, is managed in Guatemala via its local subsidiary, San Rafael S.A. Currently, Escobal is under construction, but expected to be in production by late 2013 and to achieve commercial production by 2014.
Criminalizing the Resistance
In September 2010, during a presentation at the Denver Gold Conference, McArthur stated: “The Escobal project is in a region that is receptive to the mining industry…. We are not in the Guatemalan Mayan highlands; we are down in the southeast portion of the country. We will not have the indigenous issues that [Goldcorp’s] Marlin [mine has had in San Miguel Ixtahuacan and Sipacapa] and some of the other mines in the country have had.”
Nevertheless, reality on the ground is much different than what McArthur claims. Three adjacent municipalities to San Rafael Las Flores have carried out community consultations in the past few months, overwhelmingly rejecting mining activities in their communities.
Oscar Morales, vice-president of the Commission in Charge of the Community Consultation regarding Mining Activities in San Rafael Las Flores, assures us the population in the municipality is divided with respect to the issue. Some undoubtedly do benefit from jobs, but the majority are fearful of contamination in a region that lives off agriculture and livestock.
One of the principal worries in the region is the possible contamination of the Ayarza Lagoon. The great volcanic body of water, similar in formation to well-known Lake Atitlan, is located 2.5 kilometers downstream from the Escobal project. Members of the Local Committee in Defense of Life claim that a recent study detected a thin layer of rock barely 200 meters thick that divides underground aquifers from the lagoon. Unfortunately, contamination of the underground water reserves is relatively common due to acid drainage that will undoubtedly be produced by the mining project and filter through the bedrock. In addition, an accidental cyanide spill or a breach in the tailings pond would easily contaminate not only the aquifers, but also the Ayarza Lagoon.
Tahoe Resources and Goldcorp’s partnership clearly reaches far beyond their business ventures as they also apply similar strategies to intimidate those who oppose their mining projects. Just as Goldcorp has filed criminal charges against roughly 20 local activists from San Miguel Ixtahuacan, Tahoe has attempted to silence local leaders in San Rafael Las Flores through the same tactics.
Amadeo de Jesus Rodriguez Aguilar, leading member of the Local Committee in Defense of Life, has been accused by Tahoe Resources of kidnapping members of the company’s security personnel. Rodriguez Aguilar, who discredits the charge as “absurd,” claims the accusation stems from an October 2011 incident where he peacefully interrupted a meeting involving visiting shareholders from North America. “Since I speak English well, I just wanted to meet with these shareholders and inform them of the issues that are important to us here in the community. And just because of that, I have been charged with kidnapping.”
Father Nestor Melgar from the local Catholic Church has also been the target of incriminations. A reliable source from San Rafael Las Flores, who prefers to remain anonymous, has recently informed MiMundo.org that, “a woman sponsored by the mining company has filed legal charges against Father Nestor. The accusation stems from his declarations through his sermons against the mining project.”
Don Clodo: Symbol of Resistance
The only thing I have left is this plot of land I inherited from my family…and my cows,” states Don Clodo. Here in the Los Planes Hamlet, Don Clodo is the last one left as he refuses to sell his land to Tahoe Resources. The Canadian company has set up a chain-link fence around his home. The only way in and out is through a narrow walkway between fences and constant machinery at work.
Despite the difficulties, Don Clodo maintains his daily routine: each morning, at dawn, he walks his dozen cows to graze out past the town center, roughly two kilometers from his home.
Don Clodo’s health has seriously deteriorated in recent months due to constant dust and the incessant noise. He suffers from a chronic cough and acute conjunctivitis in his eyes. Plus, he has a hard time sleeping at night as the construction of the mine goes on day and night. “The mining company’s environmental impact report, approved by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, included Rodriguez’s land plot even though the mining company is not the rightful owner of this land. In addition, the polygon is included in the exploitation license and the report claims there is no one living within 500 meters of the mine even though Rodriguez lives roughly 10 meters from the company’s fence.” Despite the situation, Don Clodo assures the company will have his lands “only over his dead body.”
This past January, over 400 community members blocked the entrance to the mining project in protest to the industrial activities. Nevertheless, Kevin McArthur insists there are no conflicts in San Rafael Las Flores and continues to brag that Escobal will prove to be “a cash flow machine.”
James Rodríguez is an independent photojournalist (MiMundo.org). Photo 1: Don Glodo with his cow, Mariposa. Photo 2: Oscar Morales. Photo 3: Ayarza Lagoon. Photo 4: Amadeo de Jesus Rodrguez Aguilar. Photo 4: Don Clodo surrounded by the company's fence. Photo 5: Panorama of San Rafael Las Flores. Escobal mine is to the left, the town to the right.